Officials: Here’s How Not to Screw Up a $50 Billion Networking Contract

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The Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract is a great opportunity for agencies to modernize, but they need to focus on people and planning to do it right.

The clock is ticking toward a 2020 deadline for agencies to switch over to the General Services Administration’s massive new contract vehicle for network and telecom services, and federal IT leaders are worried agencies might blow it.

Last year, GSA rolled out the Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract, a $50 billion blanket award that covers governmentwide procurement of traditional networking and telecommunications equipment, as well as a mix of emerging technologies. All agencies are required to transition to EIS by 2020, and the contract could last up to 15 years.

EIS has the potential to streamline innovative tech purchases, boost federal cloud usage and strengthen cybersecurity across the government, top IT officials said at a forum hosted by ACT-IAC, a government and industry organization. But that requires agencies to treat the transition like a major transformation, not just a new contract, according to federal IT experts.

“This is not just a chance to switch from provider A to provider B,” federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said. “We’re laying the foundation for the next decade, which requires we pull many elements of today’s infrastructure out of the last century and look forward. We’re solving for what we’re delivering right now but we’re also positioning for where we want to go in the future.”

Tech officials’ advice largely fell into two categories: people and planning.

“It’s critical to get different factions in your agency on board—your business, financial and IT folks all need to be on board,” said Crystal Philcox, deputy assistant commissioner of category management in GSA's Office of Information Technology Category.

Getting people to understand the ways transitioning to EIS could benefit their agency and themselves—like enabling more telework—can help drum up enthusiasm, she said.

If her office gets the sense that an agency is treating the transition as mission-critical and that the transition efforts have widespread support, Philcox added, her office will be more inclined to help the agency stay on course.

Equally integral to the program’s success is finding a senior executive who can own the transition, said federal Deputy Chief Information Officer Margie Graves. If the project gets delegated to rank-and-file employees, they will almost inevitably recreate existing services, and agencies will miss out on otherwise significant gains, she said.

Graves also listed some key areas agency leaders should focus on when building an acquisition strategy.

“Know what your specific transition challenges are—whether they’re in the realm of policy, finance or acquisition—and get those to the table as quickly as possible with the experts who can help you,” she said in a conversation with Nextgov.

Agencies should also get an understanding of what technologies exist and what might be on the horizon, and build measures into the contract to make future adoption as easy as possible, she added.